Author and activist Wenonah Hauter visited New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville on February 13 for a discussion and signing of her new book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America. Ms. Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, comes from a farming family, and is a long-time strategist and organizer for sustainable energy and food production.
Foodopoly reveals the behind-the-scenes lobbying, politics, and corporate power directing our food systems, and argues that consumers and farmers alone cannot fix the problem; a fundamental shift in food politics is required, as well. From the Foodopoly site:
In Foodopoly, she takes aim at the real culprit: the control of food production by a handful of large corporations—backed by political clout—that prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store.
This talk was also timely for me, as I just got an overview of US food and farm policy from my Intro to the US Food System course. Read my notes here.
What I learned from Wenonah Hauter
- The Reagan administration changed antitrust laws, made it easier for monopolies to form
- In 1996 US joined WTO and NAFTA; those partnerships lead to pressure to deregulate farm policy
- The 1996 farm bill led to drop in corn and soy prices, saving the big food producers billions
- ’98 price collapse
- Congress began subsidies for commodity crops to support farmers
- Half of small/medium farmer income is from subsidies, so if we get rid of them, we need to fix antitrust policies that keep prices low
- Subsidies are a symptom of a dysfunctional system, not a cause of it
- About 20 food production companies control most of the grocery store brands
- They need cheap ingredients, so lobby strongly for reducing and maintaining the low price of inputs
- Big 4 groceries: Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger, Target
- 1/3 of our grocery money goes to Wal-Mart. They may be making an effort to work with smaller, local producers, but logistically, it’s difficult for any suppliers but the very large ones to work them
- United Natural Foods, Inc is largest US distributor of organic foods
- Since corp went public, it has focused mostly on Whole Foods and no longer delivers to small buying clubs and co-ops
- Possibly colluding w/ Whole Foods to drive consumers there?
- We need to vote with our forks, but also with our votes: keep elected officials accountable
- Need to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement
- US would “harmonize” laws with other (less-regulated) countries, like the EU did when the US and the EU made trade agreement, and the EU’s laws were weakened to harmonize w/ the US’s
- Tyson and Perdue are trying to change the rules: to raise poultry in Asia, and increase speed of slaughter to 200 birds/min
- Can’t fix food system without fixing our democracy
- Need to undo Citizens United (Read more about that here: Overturning Citizens United)
- Need to be citizens, not consumers
Ms. Hauter was an excellent speaker (even with laryngitis); passionate, knowledgeable, and fluent in the topics discussed. If she comes to your area, I highly recommend you see her. I look forward to reading Foodopoly, and will surely post lessons learned from it on this blog.
For more information, visit the sites below:
Food and Water Watch’s page about Foodopoly
Buy the book (or better, go to your local bookstore and buy it)